Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?

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This article was published 29/8/2018 (1029 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?

Well, no. The lean, angular Kentucky factory ham cooker Rick Niece is no Helen of Troy.

Rick Niece's fascinating, expressive face has proven the inspiration for artists from around the world.

Rick Niece's fascinating, expressive face has proven the inspiration for artists from around the world.

Yet his fascinating, expressive face has proven the inspiration for artists from around the world, who, energized and incited by the images Niece posts online, have produced hundreds of works of art, encompassing media from oil paintings to digital cartoons.

That is how Niece, 45, came to be invited to serve as a "guest muse" at Proutopia, an Interlake arts festival run by Winnipeg-born mixed-media artist Heidi Hunter.

Twice a year for the past three years, Hunter has converted her rambling property on Prout Road, just west of Winnipeg Beach, into a multi-faceted showcase for artists.

Hunter sells her artworks and textiles out of her own Runs With Scissors Studio on the property. During the festival however, the yard is divvied up into a circus of tents where other diverse local artists can exhibit and sell their work. (Culinary arts are also represented by a food truck, a stall from the Selkirk bakery Ubuntu and "The Butter Tart Lady," purveyor of that delectable pastry she sells by the thousands.)

"I only intended to do it once," Hunter says of the bi-annual "micro-festival."

This painting by Erfurt, Germany’s Dagmar Kuechler is one of many of Rick Niece on display this weekend at Proutopia.</p>

This painting by Erfurt, Germany’s Dagmar Kuechler is one of many of Rick Niece on display this weekend at Proutopia.

"It started as a little micron of an idea," she says. "I usually open my studio up to visitors and I have quite a following. But then I started to invite instructors to teach workshops, and then I thought, a couple of years ago: Why don’t we get instructors to set up a little booth?

"And then all of a sudden, it was three weeks before my first event and I had 13 artists, and it just kind of grew from there," she says. "We had so much fun, I thought: ‘Let’s do it again in September.’"

It was Hunter herself who discovered Rick Niece via an art app.

"I have the Sktchy app on my phone where people can post pictures of themselves and artists can choose from photos to draw them or paint them," she explains. "Then they download the art, and with a swipe of the finger, you can see the photo that inspired the art.

By Diane Jeng Wong, Alhambra, Calif.</p>

By Diane Jeng Wong, Alhambra, Calif.

"That’s what happened with Rick and me," she says. "I saw his face. He was this dramatic character. He could be this tough biker, he could be this tender, sad face in a little derby, or he could be a wizard. "So I just took that picture and I used him as a wizard, and I thought I could use that to be on the poster for Proutopia."

It’s a hobby for Niece, who, on the phone from his home in Hitchins, Ky., recalls: "I was trying to find something to occupy my mind, because my mind thinks too much.

"A few years ago, a friend of mine, he’s an artist, told me about a website where you post pictures of yourself and people may draw it and maybe they won’t."

In his case, people generally found themselves inspired by the photographs Niece took of himself.

Dan Bogdon Melville</p>

Dan Bogdon Melville

"I’ll think about what kind of character I want to be — characters like a mad doctor, a wizard, a cowboy — and then I’ll just set up my camera equipment and my iPad," he says. "I have studio lights that I set up for dramatic lighting, so I stepped it up a notch on that.

"I keep thinking of stuff," he says, grateful for the creative diversion. "My thinking is more postive now than negative."

He estimates he has inspired "about 4,200 drawings, paintings, sketches and different kinds of art that people have done."

"I don’t get paid for none of this," he says. "I love doing this for the people.

Jaye Dornfield</p>

Jaye Dornfield

"It was so fun to do to see the different styles that people could create with my face. And now it’s been a four-year-long journey.

"They’re looking for something inspiring them and they’ll come to me and see my photos on Instagram (@rick_the_muse) or Sktchy and they’ll say, ‘He has the best photos for reference.’ I’ve had people tell me they’re doing a graphic novel and they’re using my face in that novel."

Many of those works will be on view in the "Show-dio" tent at Proutopia, devoted to all things Rick.

"We’re going to have a slideshow, but have some original works as well," Hunter says. "There’s submissions from artists around the world. I’m up to about 160 pictures of Rick for the ‘Rick Made Me Do It’ exhibit.

Brenda Hudson</p><p>The Proutopia parade.</p>

Brenda Hudson

The Proutopia parade.

"It’s just become this whole crazy, wonderful hallucination come true," she says.

"Heidi is an amazing person and I couldn’t thank her enough for inviting me to this amazing thing," says Niece. "Even if this is the only thing I do, I’ll be happy with that but if it progresses, I’ll be OK with that too.

"But I’m going to keep on going. I’m not going to stop. People don’t want me to stop."

Yes, there is a 12-foot wizard puppet and lots of fanciful activities. (Attendees are invited to bring their own magic wands.) But Proutopia is primarily a festival for grownups, Hunter cautions.

"We welcome everyone of course, but we would stress that you keep children in hand because we’ve got artwork, sculpture and beautiful valuable things on display and for sale," she says. "So hold your magic wand in one hand and your child’s hand in the other."

randall.king@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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